When we prepare for a tense conversation, we often practice the things we want to say. We organize our arguments, strategize about our approach, and sometimes even prepare our retaliations. However, few of us prepare ourselves to listen.
We assume that we know how to listen, and that listening just happens naturally. In reality, listening is an active process in which a decision is made to hear and understand the speaker’s message. In tense situations, an inability to listen can hinder our ability to communicate effectively. I’m sure we can all recall a time when we have left an argument wondering if the other person heard a word we said.
Active listening is a crucial element in productive discussions because it allows for the respectful exchange of ideas. Active listening involves giving your full attention and interest to the person speaking. By showing the other party that you are actively listening, you convey that their message is important and thought-provoking. Linda Eisaguirre, an employment attorney who has written several books on conflict, offers some key guidelines on how to listen effectively during a conflict.
When discussing complex issues, make sure that you are listening to gain clarity. Eisaguirre (2008) suggests, “before you speak, make sure that you understand what the other person is saying. Ask open-ended (non-leading) questions,” and then make sure that you are actively listening to the other person’s answers. Eisagurre also suggests restating important parts of the conversation, or parts that you are unclear about. By, restating what we hear, we are better able to gain understanding and resolve any possible miscommunications. Rather than assuming “someone is trying to undermine your efforts,” seek clarification and ask questions.
Eisaguirre recommends summarizing conversations and clarifying the original purpose of the discussion. This ensures that all parties are on the same page, offers the parties an opportunity to recap any action items or deadlines that were discussed, and allows the parties an opportunity to address any additional topics that may not have been covered.
It is also important to provide feedback when communicating with others. When you display interest using both verbal and non-verbal cues, such as maintaining eye contact, nodding and expressing acknowledgement, you provide the speaker with feedback that encourages them to communicate more directly and honestly.
We all enter into communication with our own biases, assumptions and experiences, and as a result, we all communicate and listen differently. To ensure you are actively listening in an effort to resolve conflict, Eisaguirre suggests assuming control over your communication. She states, “that it is your responsibility to listen until you understand and to speak in a way that others can understand” Eisaguirre (2008). By preparing ourselves to listen and taking control of how we communicate, we stand a better chance of communicating effectively and fostering positive relationships.
Eisaguirre, L. (2008, April). Communicating Effectively During Conflict. Retrieved October 04, 2017, from http://www.mediate.com/articles/eisaguirreL3.cfm?nl=155